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Vin en Vacances

Food & Wine are so intrinsically intertwined with life in France, that we thought we’d share some of our favourite places to grab a bite in and around Carcassonne. With many of our guests staying either in the Bastide or up in La Cité, we’re often asked for restaurant recommendations, so we’ve decided to share some of our favourite culinary hotspots with you! Some will be fabulous tapas bars, or places to grab a quick bite, others will offer a more formal dining experience. So without further ado…. A TABLE!

This week we dip our toes in the water of all things crustacean! Languedoc is famed for farming salty, tangy, oysters and mussels, particularly in the Etang de Thau; so what better way for six girlfriends to get together for lunch, than over a huge fruits de mer!
During the Winter here in the Languedoc, a group of us will often have Friday lunch together. Sometimes at each other’s homes, and sometimes at a restaurant. Two weeks ago, we decided to do a girls lunch in Carcassonne; here’s the review of one of the best value informal seafood restaurants in town!
The Bistrot d’Augustin, situated right next door to the Hotel Terminus in Carcassonne is just a stone’s throw from the main railway station, and just across from the Canal du Midi. The entrance to the restaurant is dominated by a magnificent old bar which leads to a delightful room with high ceilings, wonderful cornicing and plasterwork, and charming art deco lighting.

The interior is a mix of tables and chairs, as well as some ‘banquette’ seating – booths that seat up to six diners; they’re on a slightly raised platform, and offer the best views not only of the restaurant, but also the magnificent marble fireplace.
The restaurant has a classic menu, printed on the place settings which offers great French bistro dishes like slow cooked lamb shanks, entrecote & frites, and confit de canard; as well as their ‘Menu Express’ which at less than €15 for 3 courses is a bargain – particularly if you like classics like Moules Mariniere ( mussels in a shallot and white wine sauce ) but those ‘in the know’ go for the other menu… the seafood menu… where oysters are king!
Five of us decided to split the biggest seafood platter available which worked out to around €20 per person, and included oysters, mussels, prawns, whelks, clams, a brown crab and a small lobster. In addition we had a couple of bowls of fries and of course, a bottle of Picpoul de Pinet!
This is a social, convivial, leisurely way to eat; and there’s something delightfully satisfying about having to work a little bit for your lunch! The seafood tower comes with bread and butter, and of course mayonnaise, aioli, and the standard oyster condiment of mignonette – red wine vinegar, finely chopped shallots, and cracked black pepper. It took us nearly two hours to eat our way through this mountain of seafood, and I think all we had left at the end was a couple of whelks!
A quick word about the wait staff – they are swift, polite, and the turnaround is generally quick. This is quite a large restaurant by Carcassonne’s standards, so there isn’t really any need to book. One other little bit of info, if you’re staying in a gite or cottage locally, this restaurant will also do a fruits de mer a emporter – that’s take out to you and me!
Fancy a coffee?
The Place Carnot in Carcassonne is host to numerous restaurants and cafes and is the true heart of the Bastide St Louis, or ‘modern’ town of Carcassonne, and a short 15-minute walk from La Cite.  I have always thought it a shame that whereas la Cite is the main destination for the vast majority of tourists, few actually make it down to the lower town to explore and relax in the Place Carnot – the true centre-ville of Carcassonne.
We are lucky to have one of the best markets of the region in Carcassonne, which of course takes place in the Place Carnot. On a Tuesday and Thursday it’s exclusively a produce market – fruit, vegetables, cheese and the like, whereas on a Saturday morning, food producers from across the region, and culinary gambit take to the square, and you can find everything from oysters to honey producers, and along the old city walls it’s got a general market where you can find pretty much everything from a fake fur coat to spare spark plugs!
The large square is surrounded by shops, banks and some ten cafes and restaurants, and for many, taking coffee and meeting friends is as much a part of the market experience as the actual shopping.  Of my favourite places to relax the largest, oldest, and most popular is Chez Felix where you might find yourself sitting amongst the cheese and charcuterie stalls. The place keeps ticking over but the same three waiters who were serving me coffee when I arrived 13 years ago, Jean-Jaques, Herve and Michel.  Watching them manage the hundreds of clients that pass through on a busy Saturday is pure entertainment.  A true Carcassonne institution and not to be missed – stay for lunch and try their bavette and chips (their frites are some of the best I have had) for under 10€.
For my money, the very best tea and coffee is served at Le Bastid’, one of the smarter cafes Carcassonne has to offer, so when I fancy a cup of Earl Grey I will head there – especially on a Summer afternoon when their side of the square is in the shade and offers some relief from the intense sunshine.  However, on a sunny winter day I will try to find a seat at La Cantine du Saint Roch at the top of the square, which gets the most Winter sunshine, and join locals and incredulous tourists as we turn our faces to the sun and luxuriate in the warmth.  If I want to eat ice cream on a hot Summer afternoon, there is really only one choice – Le Carnot.  Charming, welcoming staff and an extensive menu of delicious and indulgent coupes; it’s the only choice for the ice cream lover.
A few tips for the first-time visitor; don’t expect immediate service!  French waiters are incredibly efficient, but the cafes are always understaffed.  It’s true that it can be annoying if you are in a hurry, or expect the same level of service that you may be used to in the UK or US, but taking coffee in France is about so much more than a caffeine fix.  You won’t see locals rushing to appointments carrying huge cardboard buckets of coffee to drink on the go, there is always time to sit and take coffee from a proper china cup at a more civilised pace.  So relax and enjoy the surroundings, the waiter will get to you, I promise!
If you are used to drinking cappuccinos, then order a grande creme which is an espresso topped with frothed milk.  It won’t be as foamy as you are used to, but is more recognisable as a cappuccino than the French version, which is an espresso topped with a small mountain of whipped, sweetened cream and costs a small fortune.  A ‘cafe’ is an espresso; you won’t find a larger cup of black coffee, unless you order an ‘alonge’ where you get an espresso topped up with hot water which often arrives in its own little jug for you to pour to your liking.  A ‘noisette’ is not a hazelnut flavoured coffee, but an espresso with just a dash of hot milk; ‘noisette’ in this case, refers to the colour and not the flavour.
Don’t be surprised to find people enjoying a glass of wine, beer, or my favourite, a glass of calvados or cognac at 10 o’clock in the morning.  Apart from being a wonderful way to start the day – they are already hours behind the market stall holders who gather for a breakfast of blood sausage and red wine at around 8am.  Go ahead – you’re on holiday!
I would encourage any visitor to factor some time into their schedule for a lazy coffee in the Place Carnot, especially on a market day, and experience a slice of French life for yourself.


Maison Bor – Place Carnot, Carcassonne

If you’re looking for a quick, tasty bite to eat, then Maison Bor in the heart of the Bastide St Louis could fit the bill.

I popped in one Saturday in January accompanied by my mother who agreed to be my co-contributor for this week’s blog! Well the wind was blowing a gale, and the sale shoppers were out in force, so after a hard morning’s trawl around the lovely boutiques of the Bastide, we popped into Maison Bor for a speedy lunch, but it’s also a great pit stop for coffee and cake.

The menu du jour was a 3-course lunch for €10, yes €10! There were 3 choices of entrée, main and dessert. I was obviously feeling ducky as I plumped for the Terrine of duck, whilst my mum went for the Hare Terrine, I then had the Duck Confit – which was manchons de canard, basically the bottom of the leg – with bitter orange, and tiny little noodles in a broth; and my mum opted for the soup of the day which was courgette, carrot and spinach. Mine was delicious, filling and piping hot! My mum said the soup was a little under-seasoned, but still tasty.

Neither of us wanted dessert (those pesky New Year Resolutions!! ) but the choices of ile flottante, ice cream or faiselle ( a fresh creamy superlight cheese ) were tempting… so we had coffees instead.

Lunch for 2 including coffee and 2 bottles of San Pellegrino was €30. Can’t argue with that 🙂

What we liked: the waiter who on hearing us speaking English, tried super hard to converse with us. Great value for money; buzzy, casual atmosphere, and if the weather permits, a fabulous spot to people watch during the Saturday market on Carnot.

There is no alternative menu, so unless the menu du jour tickles your fancy…

Brasserie A 4 Temps Carcassonne

This week’s restaurant review comes to you courtesy of the Brasserie A Temps at the Porte des Jacobins a 2 Boulevard Barbès, Carcassonne.

First things first – I really rate this restaurants prix fixe (fixed price) lunchtime menu. At €16 for 3 courses, you’d be hard pressed to find better food anywhere – and factor in that the patron is Franck Putelat, the 2* Michelin chef at Le Parc, and it becomes even more remarkable!

We went there in January 2017 to celebrate a couple of birthdays, and as usual, it was packed.  Our apéro order was quickly taken, followed by our food choices. Almost everyone took the prix fixe, which consisted of Garbure – cabbage soup, generously garnished with duck confit, followed by steak accompanied by roasted polenta, and finished with a super light waffle with a chocolate/caramel sauce. I’m not a huge fan of cabbage, and I don’t often eat dessert, so I opted for a green salad and a paleron steak with chestnut purée.

Now, I’m going to be completely honest. When my very tasty looking green salad arrived, it had tomato in it, and I have a problem with raw tomato and had to return it. What came back was essentially a bowl of iceberg lettuce, and I did feel a bit like I’d been punished! Not to worry, I still enjoyed it; and the paleron which followed was perfectly delicious.

This place has a great buzz about it, it’s always busy, the staff are conscientious, and attentive. It’s probably got around 50 covers but it’s lively! I prefer to be seated in the booths on the left of the restaurant where it’s more intimate and cosy, but we ended up on a rectangular table right in front of the very drafty front door… again, I understand that they have to move parties around to accommodate all reservations, but it was a niggle, particularly as I reserved over a week in advance, so if you go, be sure to ask for a booth! In the summer time there terrace outside is also a great spot.

There are a couple of things for which I will absolutely applaud this restaurant, one is its wine choices the other its staff. The wine list is not huge, but it is comprehensive in terms of the Languedoc, and the wines by the glass, including fizz, are absolutely excellent. The staff are working flat out, full tilt from noon until the last diners leave, in our case, just shy of 3pm, and they’re often turning smaller tables twice; but they’re efficient, timely, and get the orders right.

Upside : Great value lunch menu, super staff, lovely wine choices

Downside : You MUST book ahead ( which could I guess indicate an Upside! ), can get a little noisy at lunchtime.

My tip would be to go to the fabulous Carcassonne market on a Saturday morning, and then hit this place for lunch!

To book telephone 04 68 11 44 44

Bistrot d’Alice

Our first culinary hotspot is the relatively new “Bistrot d’Alice”, located next door to the fabulous La Ferme delicatessen, at 26 Rue Chartran in the Bastide St Louis. If you like classic French cooking, look no further. The menu is compact – around 6 entrées, 6 main courses and 6 desserts; but it is supplemented with a ‘plat du jour’ and some daily specials. The menu is both traditional, and seasonal, and as I am writing this blog post during the winter, dishes such as guinea fowl and rabbit appear, as well as the somewhat terrifying tete de veau with it’s traditional gribiche sauce!

Just before New Year I popped in one evening, with a friend, just on the off chance, and we were lucky enough to grab the last two seats at the ‘comptoir’.  We polished off some exceptionally good oysters to start with, then I opted for a plate of home cured salmon, and she had rabbit, all washed down with a pleasant white from Montlaur in the Corbières. Supper for 2 was €50.

A week later, I was back! This time for lunch, and this time we booked! It’s hard to over extol the charm of red velvet banquette seats, brass rails, and red and white chequered place settings, particularly when the service manages to be both unobtrusive and attentive! This time I went for steak tartare – yes, I know, raw beef coupled with a raw egg yolk isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I do love it, particularly when the chef preparing it is a dab hand with cornichons and tabasco! The accompanying French fries were piping hot, straight out of the fryer, so I was a very happy camper. Wendy opted for the guinea fowl with cepes and she was delighted with it. I’m afraid we did the terribly uncool thing of photographing our food, but it’s more to show you the presentation – we promise! We both had a glass of very passable red from the Cabardés, and Wendy finished off lunch, as she invariably does, with thé gourmand. If you’ve never come across this particular French custom, it’s a selection of mini desserts, served with either tea or coffee, and very agreeable it is too. Lunch for 2 was also about €50 including wine and coffees.

What we loved: The open kitchen, good value, local produce, and charming service all make this a “we’ll be back” kind of place.

A word to the wise, this restaurant’s reputation has spread like wildfire around town, and we would recommend you book! 04 68 47 25 51

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